Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 3

David Wu Talking About Cold Steel

Director David Wu talking about his film, Cold Steel.

It’s extraordinary how exhausting Fantastic Fest is. Today is only the morning of Day 4, and every cell in my body is already plotting a revolt. Yet I shall soldier on, because I got great film picks today!

Here’s a sampling of what I saw yesterday:

COLD STEEL
This film is essentially Enemy at the Gates set in China, a tale of two snipers on opposite lines. It is quite a good wartime melodrama, though, with nice bits of dialogue, gorgeous cinematography, and excellent action. It also contains a more subtle antagonist than I’m used to seeing in an Asian drama about wartime. Recommended.

HOLY MOTORS
Man, I have no idea what this film was actually about (aside from “spiritual stuff”), but I sure enjoyed the journey. On the surface, the film is about an actor who rides around in a giant limousine, who stops at “meetings” around the city and performs different roles in seemingly real-life vignettes. His first meeting has him turning into a beggar woman; later, he’s a father, or a dying uncle, or sewer-dwelling bum who photobombs Eva Mendes. It is strange, beautiful, and hallucinogenic, held together by a magnificent performance by Denis Lavant. Holy Motors is dense and possibly impenetrable, but it is also enjoyable without diving into its philosophy. My friend Don, though, may have had the best capsule review of this film when he said, “That was the Frenchest thing I have seen in a long time.”

PLAN C
I’m a sucker for a decent “crime gone horribly wrong” movie, and this one is quite good. The story centers around a cop who owes money to a Chinese thugs; when they start threatening his family, he turns desperate for payback cash. That’s how the plan to rob an illegal casino comes to life… and so on. Plan C is quite dark and quite funny, centering around an engaging main character and supporting characters worthy of a Cohen brothers movie. Yet the film keeps its quirkiness understated, and never seems to be clever for the sake of cleverness. Nicely done.

PUSHER
I am sad to report that I have never seen the Refn version of Pusher, which is damn near 15 years old by now. I am pleased to report, though, that this English remake is quite solid, and that it makes me want to look into the older film as well. I am told by others that this remake is very faithful to the original (and is even executive produced by Refn), though the characters have a different tone. On its own merits, this Pusher is also a fine “crime gone horribly wrong” flick, wherein a drug dealer flubs a large deal and winds up owing a huge amount of money in a short amount of time to very dangerous people. Most of the film progresses as you might expect, but I was particularly impressed with its endgame. Nice, tense, and full of verve.

TAI CHI 0
I was exhausted by this time, and the film didn’t start until 1 AM, so I have to admit that I snoozed off during a couple points of the film. That’s not the fault of this movie, though. Tai Chi 0 is a bright, feather-light, zany, zippy martial arts flick, complete with video game narrative guideposts (think Scott Pilgrim), steampunk machinery (!), and fight choreography by Sammo Hung (!!!). Don’t go in expecting a complete story, though. Tai Chi 0 is only the first entry in a series, and it ends on a cliffhanger. (You get to watch the trailer for the next film during the credits.) The basic story is one you’ve seen a thousand times in martial arts flicks; it’s the method of storytelling here that makes Tai Chi 0 a treat.

OTHER ODDITIES

I had a fantastic day yesterday at scoring free stuff. I got a free beer in the Shiner theater during Plan C. I got free Tales from the Crypt pint glasses (!) at Pusher. I got a free lollipop at Tai Chi 0.

Speaking of lollipops, a guy named Lars gave the most astounding introduction to Tai Chi 0, which involved a five-minute rant about rediscovering lollipops and the phrase, “Watch out, man, I know Tai Chi.” I think the preamble (emphasis on “amble”) was due to someone telling him to fill time while they got the film ready, but the result was downright surreal.

I totally missed out on The Fantastic Debates, wherein Fantastic Fest guests first debate with words, and then resolve their battles in a boxing ring. I hear that the twin women who made American Mary battled each other, and Tim League battled the guy who made Miami Connection. I’m sure video will emerge soon.

Director David Wu was present for the Cold Steel screening, and he delivered a fantastic Q&A. He’s funny, articulate, and in possession of decades of experience in the Asian film industry. I could listen to him do Q&A for hours.

Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 2

Noboru Iguchi Eating Bull Penis Sushi

Noboro Iguchi eating bull penis sushi at the Extreme Sushi Challenge, prior to screening his film, Dead Sushi.

I’m only two days in, and Fantastic Fest is already kicking my ass. This is as it should be.

ANTIVIRAL
Hands down, this is the best film I saw yesterday, and is an early favorite for the festival. This film, directed by Brandon Cronenberg (David Cronenberg’s son), feels like something from early in David Cronenberg’s career, somewhere between Videodrome and Dead Ringers. Antiviral progresses coolly and deliberately, portraying a near-future world where viruses from celebrities are in high demand. It’s an ingenious concept explored well, making this film the smartest new horror film I’ve seen in a long while. If you can’t handle films with a slow pace or lots of needles, this won’t be for you, but anyone who is a fan of old school Cronenberg will likely love this.

THE WARPED FOREST
If a film adaptation of Naked Lunch were made cute and Japanese, it would look a lot like this. Director Shunichiro Miki self-funded this project, so it’s essentially a cinematic playground for a very accomplished — and very strange — Japanese commercial director. There are penis guns and vulvar fruits and people who keep money in their bellybuttons and beasts with guts of fun fur. The film is also gorgeously shot, and it seems to have some sort of point about love and relationships. There’s a strange, gentle charm to it. Worth a look.

SHORT FUSE (horror short program)
I love the Fantastic Fest short film programs every year, but in the past, it always seemed that the horror shorts set was always the weakest of the three sets. This year, Short Fuse contains an extremely strong lineup of shorts, most of which mix an ample amount of humor in with their horror. Particularly strong is the “Skinfections” series, a trio of shorts that use body horror very well to set up character and humor.

DEAD SUSHI
You know, I don’t particularly care for Noboru Iguchi’s films (Robogeisha, Machine Girl, etc.) in and of themselves, but I love their premiers at Fantastic Fest, and Noboru Iguchi himself is hard not to love. The man seems to constantly be bursting with joy and energy, and you can even see that in his films if you’re not too distracted by the flying limbs and spraying blood. Dead Sushi is probably the best thing I’ve seen from him; it’s not a great film by any means, but he managed to combine zombie sushi (!) with some very funny comedic actors and zippy pacing. It also looks like everyone had a blast working on the film. Dead Sushi is a very silly, fun diversion, if you’re into that sort of thing.

NEW KIDS NITRO
New Kids Nitro is a sequel to New Kids Turbo, which was beloved by Fantastic Fest audiences last year. For those of you unfamiliar with New Kids, imagine the Dutch version of white trash humor, complete with mullets and beer-swilling pregnant women. New Kids humor is ridiculously un-PC, which is part of the point (and part of why people laughed at Turbo so hard last year), but here it seems to wear thin. New Kids Nitro is clearly aware of the dangers of repeating the jokes of the previous film (as evidenced in the opening scenes), but it never really gets a handhold in new material. That said, I can also describe this film as “New Kids Turbo plus zombies”, which definitely earns a few points.

OTHER MADNESS
The Dead Sushi screening last night was preceded by the Extreme Sushi Challenge, during which Noboru Iguchi and friends challenged audience members to a sushi eating contest. Of course, the Drafthouse came up with three of the craziest sushi offerings we Americans can imagine: bull penis sushi, balut (fertilized duck egg, aka duck fetus), and tuna laced with ghost pepper. Trevor Trujillo, a Fantastic Fest regular who sports a dazzling mustache, won the challenge, earning a headband, a $100 gift card (!), and awe from the audience.

Actress Rina Takeda, star of Dead Sushi, was also at the screening. Since she’s a black belt in karate, she did a short demo after the film. In the category of “things I never thought I’d see in my life,” let’s add seeing a young woman whip around sushi-nunchucks whilst being narrated by piece of egg sushi that was being puppeteered by a small, round Japanese man.

Fantastic Fest 2012: Day 1

Noboru Iguchi and Entourage

Director Noboru Iguchi and his entourage, in the parking lot of the Alamo Drafthouse.

I have only a few minutes to post a few scattered thoughts about the first day of Fantastic Fest. It was a hoot and a half, though!

FRANKENWEENIE
I had a lovely time watching Tim Burton’s latest film, Frankenweenie. I’m pleased to announce it’s the best thing he’s done in years, constructed 100% of everything he does well. It isn’t a classic on the level of Edward Scissorhands, but it is a delight, particularly for film nerds. I’m also pleased to announce that the 3D is gorgeous with the stop-motion animation.

THE FINAL MEMBER
The Final Member is a documentary about three men who are preoccupied with penises: one is the proprietor of the Phallogical Museum in Iceland, and the other two are potential donors of the one specimen that is missing from the collection. Despite the sensational object at the core of this documentary, the film is about much more. It finds tremendous depth in exploring the personalities of these three men, and it quickly finds the core of this story. It’s a very Errol Morris-y type of film, gorgeously lensed and carefully constructed, but yet not without humor. HIGHLY recommended.

MEMORY OF THE DEAD
This Argentinian horror film desperately wants to be Evil Dead, but doesn’t know what made that film click. The tone and focus are all over the place, and the film never really gels. It does have some interesting, creative moments, and it manages to pull an interesting ending out of the mess, but it’s just not good. That said, the drunken, rambling Q&A with the director and screenwriter after the film made the screening worthwhile a hundred times over.

OTHER WEIRD STUFF

The Dredd people brought a slo-mo photo booth to the parking lot of the theater, which means that people threw a lot of glitter around. Also, this.

One of the theaters showing Frankenweenie was filled with dogs and “guests of the dogs”. I wish I had photos of that.

We almost killed Martin Landau, who took a spill off the stage during the Frankenweenie Q&A. He’s fine, but I still want to apologize to the world.

The Alamo Drafthouse served us some sort of meat during The Final Member. I hear that it was cow testicles. Whatever it was, it was tasty.

I got to visit the new Mondo gallery during the day. They have the best chandelier in the world:

Everyone needs a chandelier this cool.

Fantastic Fest 2012: The Tour de Tacky

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday of this week driving across America. With my road-buddy Don by my side (mostly sleeping), I guided a hybrid Honda Civic from Minneapolis, MN to Austin, TX. It’s a trip of 1,170 miles, which we made nonstop as per usual. Thanks to having to work on the day I left, I wound up being awake for 41 hours straight. Thankfully, I’ve finally gotten some sleep, and have regained my powers of coherent speech.

This year, the trip was mostly uneventful. There was 100% less raccoon slaughter. The air conditioning system of the car remained intact for the entire trip. We found an IHOP in Oklahoma City with relatively little trouble.

We did, however, find a lot of tacky gas station gifts on this trip. Behold: the Great American Tour de Tacky!

Click the photos to see the larger image on Flickr.

Grrr. Anyone need Spider-Man/Green Goblin salt & pepper shakers?
GRRRR. Who needs Spider-Man and Green Goblin salt & pepper shakers? We all do, don’t we?
"Wow, who know what will happen now that Facebook bought it..." WTF?!
“I wonder what will happen now that Facebook bought it?” I… have no words for this.
And then there's this. How about a nose-shaped pencil sharpener? Thank you, Iowa.
The dog and I shared the same expression on our faces. It’s a pencil sharpener. Thanks, Iowa!
 "Look noble, @halfastick."  Do I need a skunk-skin cap?
 “Look noble, Don!” The question is not whether I should own a fake skunk-skin cap. The question is when I will break down and buy it.
At a gas station in Texas: ridiculous swords and axes. Of course. Okay, seriously guys. WTF?!
Texas gas stations contain a full assortment of tacky fantasy swords and axes. I won’t even pretend to understand this one.
AAAAAAAGH!
The winner is… CABBAGE DOG! Seriously, this will be my Fantastic Fest badge photo next year.

Incoming: The Road to Fantastic Fest 2012

Tim League

Tim League, owner of the Alamo Drafthouse, at Fantastic Fest 2010

In just a couple hours, I will hop in my car, nab my road buddy Don, and start driving to Austin, TX. We will arrive sometime tomorrow, and I hope that, this year, all the raccoons we see along the way will still be alive after we pass them.

That’s right, we’re heading to Fantastic Fest!

Fantastic Fest is an utterly bonkers film festival, housed at the famed Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. It focuses on genre filmmaking (mainly horror, crime, action, and sci-fi) that would usually only pop up occasionally at more “serious” film festivals, and it excels at bringing in those films from around the world. Fantastic Fest embraces the weird, the crazy, the underground, the obscene. The triumphant mantra of Fantastic Fest audiences is “CHAOS REIGNS!”

This will be the third year in a row that I attend. Over those years, Fantastic Fest has become one of my favorite nerd events of the year. It’s eight days where I completely fill my head and eyeballs and ears with filmmaking that often doesn’t reach American audiences at all. And then, between the films, absolutely insane things happen. I’ve seen ebullient Japanese film directors strip nearly naked whilst singing karaoke in a Texas bar. I’ve seen – and eaten – whole roast pigs that have been sewn together, Human Centipede-style. I’ve seen Elijah Wood get thrown in a Faraday cage so he could dance while being struck by lightning.

And during all of this, we eat food at the Alamo Drafthouse. Mmmmm…

This year, The Geek Life cohort Wendy will be sharing the Fantastic Fest experience. Will she survive? How many Mondo posters will she buy? Will she get spoon bruises from acclaimed Spanish directors?

In these pages over the next two weeks, you will find out what happens on our adventures! You will also be awash in film reviews and photos. Join us in the chaos!

Where's the Party? Wherever Nacho Vigalondo Is.

Fantastic Fest Rule #1: the party is *always* where Nacho Vigalondo is.